22 rue de Douai
I like classics: cocktails, cuisine, clothes, cars… But, I own up to being a bit of a novelty junkie as well. I don’t just want to know what’s “now”, I want to know what’s “next.” New venues are exciting, even more so if they’re nearly on my doorstep. So, I was clearly intrigued when le Carmen opened late last year in a discrete former hôtel particulier not far from the neon light of Pigalle.
At 8 sharp (opening hour), Matt, Vio, Amy, Shannon and I were ushered through the simple entrance by a serious doorman and delivered into elegantly theatrical surroundings. We passed the enormous bird cage and between two massive ionic columns, drawn to the glowing bar, center stage. Dramatic lighting, beautiful drapes, intimate arrangements of fashionable furniture and elegant accents such as the grand piano or heavy candelabras transport patrons to a milieu reminiscent of a film set. No surprise, considering the man behind the impressive transformation is Antoine Platteau, a famous French film set designer.
When we asked for the menu, the waitress told us there was none and offered to send over the “mixologue.” When a bartender is competent, menu-free drinking can be fun. And, this is an environment that could work a no-menu, more personalized service angle on certain levels. But, it’s also a setting that leaves customers wondering just how expensive cocktails might be. And, such a pretty place deters gauche questions of price, so patrons may hold back on “just one more” for fear of sticker shock. My solution would be to indicate price without providing detail – simply listing categories and prices and inviting customers to discuss cocktail options with the bartender. However, I fear that even such a solution will prove too difficult for a venue that looks set to start pulling in substantial crowds leaving insufficient time for one-on-one cocktail collaboration. So perhaps it’s better that I’ve been told they do plan on printing menus soon.
Resident barman, Benjamin (formerly of Paris ice bar, Kube), mixed up our first round, including a very nice martini with Haymans. We were impressed enough by round one, to give him free reign on the next. Round two was a success, with a couple notables. Vio’s drink which included spiced rum, sugar and pink grapefruit juice and was right up her ally. I appreciated the use of Bols genever in mine, which showed an awareness of my taste preferences but a willingness to stray from the obvious spirit choice of gin.
Benjamin is pleasant and enthusiastic about his work and cocktails. In the world of nightlife, superficial often trumps substance. So, I give le Carmen kudos for being more than just a pretty face. I’ll be curious to see what type of following it cultivates as it has the potential to pull in the beautiful crowd in need of a beautiful backdrop. Le Carmen falls into a space between cocktail bar and nightclub, with a coming lineup of music and dj’s and somewhat of a ‘late night’ feel. Closing hour is currently 2am, but that may be extended in the future. The music focus is fitting as this was also where the opera Carmen was written.
Upon paying we discovered the prices to be 12 to 15 Euros for cocktails, fair for the quality and location. Patrons preferring something a little less spendy can partake in the sophisticated swish with a glass of wine or beer at around 6 Euros. Without a menu, it’s harder to get an overall feel for their cocktail direction, so I’ll be stopping back in for further ‘research’ soon. Plus its classic but fresh feel simultaneous sates my cravings for both old and new.
(photos – except martini – are from le Carmen Facebook page by permission)